KAWĀD I ii. Coinage




Since the reign of Jāmāsp interrupts the two regnal periods of Kawād I, and because of several marked differences between the first and second reigns, the two should be treated separately. As has been shown by Mosig-Walburg (1994, pp. 37-56), there never was a reign of Kawād in 484, at least none for which there were any traces in the numismatic material (see below).

First reign: typology. Kawād employs only one obverse and one reverse type during his first reign (PLATE I.a). The obverse shows the king’s bust to the right wearing a crown consisting of a crescent and two mural elements, which corresponds to the second crown of Pērōz (457-84). The characteristic feature of Kawād’s obverses is the introduction of astral symbols, namely, a crescent on each of the ruler’s shoulders and a star in the left field. The obverse legends simply give the ruler’s name kwʾt “Kawād.” Kawād is the first ruler to employ different ornaments on breast and shoulders consisting of various combinations of dots and circles.

The reverse depiction follows the model of Pērōz, thus featuring a fire altar with two attendant figures, who face the altar and raise their respective right hand in a gesture of adoration. At 3h, the mint abbreviation is placed, and at 9h the king’s name, kwʾt “Kawād.” It is this element which allows the distinction between coins struck in Kawād’s first and second reign, since all issues bearing the name at 9h belong to the first reign, while those bearing a regnal date—the earliest from regnal year 11—belong to Kawād’s second reign.

Denominations. A one-sixth dinar from BYŠ can be attributed to the first reign of Kawād I (Schindel, 2004, no. A6). Apart from drachms, obols (i.e., one-sixth drachms) are known from the Fārs mints ART (Ardašir-ḵorra) and BYŠ (Bišāpūr), together with pieces the mint signatures of which cannot be read with certainty. The attribution of bronze coins to the first reign of Kawād I is not totally certain.

Mints. Altogether, 20 different mints are attested so far. The most common one is GW (Gorgān), followed by AS (Āsuristān) and the Ḵuzestān mints AW (Hormozd-Ardašir) and AY (Ērān-xwarrah-Šāpūr). The monetary output of the otherwise important 5th-century mint WH (Veh-Antiok-Šāpūr in Ḵuzestān) is as weak as under Balāš.

Second reign: typology. Several lasting additions to the repertoire of Sasanian numismatics are first attested in Kawād’s second reign. Let me start with the obverses. From regnal year 11 to 13, Kawād employs the same obverse type on the drachms as in his 1st reign (type Ia) (PLATE I.b). In regnal year 13, he introduces astral symbols—a star and a crescent—at 3h, 6h, and 9h (type Ib); at the same time, the treatment of the upper ribbons is changed (PLATE I.c). In regnal year 19, a second star is added in the right obverse field (type Ic) (PLATE I.d, e). On some copper issues which generally correspond with type Ic, a second rim is added (type Id). A very important bronze coin features the xwarrah symbol at 2h, 6h, and 10h and proves that Kawād took over the astral symbols outside the rim from Šāpūr II (309-79 C.E.) (Schindel, 2004, no. N2). On a unique gold dinar, the frontal bust of the king is attested (type II) (PLATE I.f). The standard obverse legend of the drachms until regnal year 15 is simply Kawād’s name as in his first reign; in regnal year 16, the phrase ʾpzwny abzōn “may he prosper’, is added. The dinar featuring obverse type II bears for the last time the royal title kdy kay “Kayanid.”

As for the reverses, Kawād employs the same type on the drachms as in his first reign (type 1a) (PLATE I.a-d), the only change being the addition of a second rim in regnal year 33 (type 1b) (PLATE I.e). On copper coins, a third rim occurs (type Ic). Canonically, at 3h the mint indication, and at 9h the date (years 11-43), can be found. Of great importance is the reverse side of the dinar with obverse type II, which features the king standing to the right, holding a diadem ribbon (cf. PLATE I.f). The legend runs ywbʾny ʾpzwn juwān abzōn “may the youth prosper” or lwbʾny ʾpzwn ruwān abzōn, “may his soul prosper.” The date of this issue, 25, was interpreted by Göbl as referring to the last regnal year of Pērōz, and he thus thought that this dinar was struck directly after the death of Pērōz in 484 to commemorate the accession to the throne of Kawād I in that year. Thus, there would have been three different reigns for this king. However, Mosig-Walburg (1994, pp. 42-43) has convincingly shown that Göbl’s interpretation is wrong, and that these coins in fact were struck in regnal year 25 of Kawād I. On rare copper coins sharing the technical peculiarities with the drachms (“bronze drachms”), an unidentified bust facing right is depicted (for a not totally convincing interpretation, see Mochiri, 1998) (PLATE I.g).

Denominations. I know only two gold issues from Kawād’s second reign, the famous dinar discussed above and a one-sixth dinar from the mint AY, the last gold fraction in the monetary history of the Sasanian empire. Silver fractions, too, ceased to be struck under Kawād, the last specimens with a clearly legible date belonging to regnal year 30. As for the bronze coins, Kawād introduced a denomination larger than those in use during the 5th century, as well as the curious ‘bronze drachms’ mentioned above.

Mints. The total number of mints during Kawād’s second reign is difficult to ascertain. Altogether, 39 different mint abbreviations are attested, but it is highly likely that some of these refer to the same mint place. Thus, a fair estimate would be 35 mints for the entire reign. During regnal years 33 to 35, the still unidentified mint DYWAN is by far most productive, while during the entire duration of Kawād’s second reign AS and AY have the largest monetary output. DYWAN and its variants DYWAS, DYWAT, and GNCKL are attested only under Kawād I. Since they appear in the middle-30s of the king’s reign, their activity might be connected with Kawād’s reform of the Sasanian taxation system. While no Sasanian minting activity in Khorasan is observed from the disastrous defeat of Pērōz by the Hephthalites in 484 through the reign of Jāmāsp, Khorasan mints such as ML (Marv) or HL (Herat) re-emerge in the 20s of Kawād’s reign, thus proving that Sasanian control of the region was re-established already under Kawād I. As is shown by style analysis, the dies for all mints were produced centrally.

 PLATE I. Coinage of Kawād I. (RY = regnal year.)

a. First reign. AR Drachm, type I/1, mint GW. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Cabinet des Médailles, Paris; Schindel, 2004, no. 25.

b. Second reign. AR Drachm, type Ia/1a, mint AY, RY 11. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Cabinet des Médailles, Paris; Schindel, 2004, no. 66.

c. Second reign. AR Drachm, type Ib/1a, mint NY, RY 16. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Cabinet des Médailles, Paris; Schindel, 2004, no. 246.

d. Second reign. AR Drachm, type Ic/1a, mint ST, RY 23. Münzkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; Schindel, 2004, no. 262.

e. Second reign. AR Drachm, type Ic/1b, mint LYW, RY 42. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Cabinet des Médailles, Paris; Schindel, 2004, no. 207.

f. Second reign. AV Dinar, type II/2, RY 25, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Cabinet des Médailles, Paris; Schindel, 2004, no. 300.

g. Second reign. AE “Drachm,” type Ib/3b, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; Schindel, 2004, no. 303.



R. Göbl, Sasanian Numismatics, Braunschweig 1971.

M. I. Mochiri, “Les monnaies de Kavâd I à double effigie,” in N. Sims-Williams, ed., Proceedings of the Third European Conference of Iranian Studies held in Cambridge, 11th to 15th September 1995 I, Wiesbaden, 1998, pp. 45-54.

K. Mosig-Walburg, “Die sogenannten ,,Anfangsprägungen” des Kavad I. und Xusro I.,” Studia Iranica 23/1, 1994, pp. 37-56.

N. Schindel, Sylloge Nummorum Sasanidarum Paris–Berlin–Wien. Band III. Shapur II. – Kawad I. / 2. Regierung, Vienna, 2004.

July 28, 2005


(Nikolaus Schindel)

Originally Published: May 31, 2013

Last Updated: July 20, 2005

This article is available in print.
Vol. XVI, Fasc. 2, pp. 141-143